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NOW With Alex Wagner

News/Business. Alex Wagner. Forces driving the day's stories.

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Us 10, Washington 7, Obama 5, America 5, Jim Mcgreevey 4, Barry Levinson 4, David Axelrod 4, Colorado 4, U.s. 3, Paul Ryan 3, Harry Reid 3, Grover Norquist 2, Andrew Ross Sorkin 2, S&p 2, John Boehner 2, Cialis 2, Chuck Grassley 2, Frank Bruney 2, New York 2, Barry 2,
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  MSNBC    NOW With Alex Wagner    News/Business. Alex Wagner.  
   Forces driving the day's stories.  

    March 29, 2013
    12:00 - 12:59am PDT  

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mitch mcconnell. i want the people of kentucky to have a real choice, solid one next november and the people of the country to get a fighting chance to get an opposition leader who understands opposition doesn't have to be mean, donald rumsfeld down mickey mouse obstructionism. democracy deserves better and so does our country. that's "hardball" for now. thanks for being with us. president obama wants to deliver change we can believe in but he can't do it alone. it's thursday march 28th. i'm alex wagner. this is "now." want to make sure every american is listening today. >> the president's in-box is at capacity. gun control. immigration reform and that whole grand bargain thing. how much power does he have to get it done? david axelrod breaks it down. does politics imitate art? oscar winner barry levinson and "new york times" frank bruney on the culture curve.
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the rominee returns. mitt tries to convince us he's normal. >> the market is surging but the paychecks are paltry. what gives with the american economy. have some inner growth i never experienced. and disgraced governor turned drug counselor jim mcgreevey talks redemption and second chances. surrounded by mothers who lost children to gun violence, this afternoon, president obama remembered the tragedy in newtown, connecticut. >> shame on us if we've forgotten. i haven't forgotten those kids. shame on us if we've forgotten. >> that line highlighted the fundamental problem for the white house. it's been 104 days since newtown and shame that may be president obama's most powerful tool. so far two key pieces of legislate the president wanted, bans on assault weapons and high
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capacity magazines have been dropped from the bill majority leader harry reid says he'll bring to the floor next month, and it's still unclear how far the proposal will go on background checks. even this scaled down agenda is too much for some. today, republican senator chuck grassley signaled his intention to kneecap harry reid's bill with a proposal of his own one that quote doesn't violate the constitutional rights of law abiding citizens. right. if you think a background check that prevents criminals from buying guns would eviscerate the second amendment, grassley's plan is sure to be popular with the 9% of americans who reject background checks. what really can president obama do? basically, more of the same. the white house announced he'll wednesday to highlight the the state's recent gun control legislation and made a direct appeal to the cavalry. >> nothing is more powerful than millions of voices calling for change. that's what it will take to make
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this country safer. moms and dads and hunters and sportsmen and clergy officials standing up and saying this time really is different. >> waiting in the wings over at the wall street journal, karl rove has an article saying that president has lost his clout. on a growing array of issues members of both parties have come to understand progress is more likely with the president on the sideline. while the world view is horrifying, president obama has found himself in a strange place. on tuesday he signed the continuing resolution bill, one that included the dreaded sequester cuts, as the "washington post" zachary writes, in so doing the president locked into place cuts that threaten to undermine his second term economic vision just four months after he won re-election. tomorrow, the president will be in florida pushing an idea while endorsed by people who actually understand economics remains horrifically unpopular with
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republicans, stimulus spending. >> this is a good opportunity for the president to illustrate the value in the short term and long term of the important infrastructure investments the president talked about quite some time. >> if stimulus spending in an era of historically low interest growth and rates may seem like a good idea, president obama seems to be suffering from a lack of confidence any of it will come to pass. the current offer on the white house website calls for $50 billion in stimulus, half the amount in the senate democrat's budget. that plan calls for $100 billion in stimulus amounting to 2.7% of total spending. meanwhile the house progressive caucus called for a 2.2 $2.2 trillion in stimulus spending. is president obama negotiating with himself? today, the man who can barely negotiate for his own party, speaker john boehner wrote a jubilant memo announcing victory quote we listened to each other and adopted a new strategy for
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the coming year that put republicans on offense and democrats on defense. we forged a new tactical plan that focused using our limited leverage to maximum effect. which begs the question, what good is a victory if the losers think they won? joining me now is david axelrod, senior political analyst and director of chicago's institute of politics. it is great to have you on the show. >> good to be on. i'm a little disoriented talking to you this time of day. later with alex wagner. >> i'm disoriented talking to you without the mustache. i'm still not used to it. >> i hear that a lot. >> we'll make do. my first question is, what is this memo from john boehner? only months from when the president has won re-election, has landmark pieces of legislation he'd like to see through. the republican party has been in disarray yet they are flashing the v sign for victory. what do you make of that? how do we interpreter this?
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>> it's a particular time to flash the v sign when the republican party is an historic low. if that's a strategy, it's an odd strategy. let's just keep on doing what we're doing and see if we can go even lower. the american people want action. they want to see problems addressed, particular loin the economy but also other issues. i think to boast you're successfully slowing down the process and blocking progress is not a winning strategy no matter how many times you flash a victory sign. >> is there some small, tiny nugget of truth in the sense that the republicans have been on message this entire time, for the most part, and we're talking about field goals or goalposts, i am not a sports person, goalposts here, the republicans have rallied around the ryan budget which is controversial and draconian.
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at the same time, democrats have moved to the middle and said they will compromise on entitlement programs, and you have a house budget which would be a much tougher negotiating position for the president were he to adopt it. is he making a mistake? >> there's a process. the house adopts a budget, the senate adopts a budget. both have done that now and negotiations begin. there is room for symbolism but the question is, what can you accomplish? what we need to do -- i really think that the question that has to be asked is, what do we need to do to build the kind of economy people can get ahead and have confidence their kids can get ahead in the future? we have to invest in education and training and research and development and innovation and grab control of our energy future and have a 21st-century infrastructure. that's what the president is fighting for and ultimately the kind of budget he wants to sign. he's going to continue to fight
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for that. >> if he is fighting for it, david, why is his ask so much smaller than it could be? understanding in any kind of negotiations with republicans you have to go harder with a bigger offer, suggestion what you want than you will end up getting. given that, why is the stimulus he's asking for so small? >> the stimulus that's contained within his ask is what was reflected in his jobs act he proposed in the fall of 2011. he has consistently pushed for a one-year investment of $50 billion in infrastructure, which is a substantial amount of money, would be helpful. no, it doesn't match the house progressive caucus budget, but it's what he's been arguing for, realistic, achievable and he will fight for it. the senate has its own proposal and we'll see where this all works out. at least we're into some kind of regular order here where both
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houses are in a position to negotiate a budget. that's starting point. really, the discussion should not be about lines on a page but what we need to do, what is the strategy for moving the economy forward in a way that creates the greatest possible opportunity. that, i'm sure, is what's driving the president's thinking at this point. >> to some degree i applaud the notion of realism in a day and age when congress seems to be running on fantasy. there is the reality how the republicans have been playing ball here and the president's power. i want to ask you about these landmark pieces of legislation he's getting behind, gun control and immigration. the president seemed frustrated reading to a "politico" story that says washington has moved too slowly on gun control and to some degree lost the moment. what do you make of that? has there been too much of a delay? you see chuck grassley's bill out there. harry reid's bill has been watered down. did we wait too long?
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>> look, i think the strategy of the nra and opponents of new gun safety laws has been from the beginning to try and slow the process down, to try and let the memory cool of this horrendous event in newtown. i do think, as you pointed out, 92% of americans still support background checks. there's a gun trafficking law that is advancing through the senate that i think has real possibilities of passing. there are other measures as well. we have to keep -- if you support those, you have to keep plugging away. i do think it would have been preferable to strike quickly, but that's not the way the process in congress works. so you have to work with the situation that you find. the best thing you can do is keep the american people involved in that debate. today, we heard the report from newtown and this unimaginable
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image of 154 rounds being fired at these kids in less than five minutes. that ought to refresh people's sense of urgency about this. by the way, every day in chicago we have people who are menaced and killed by guns that are sold by straw buyers to street gangs. background checks and a trafficking law would save lives in this city and communities across the country. that ought to train people's attention. >> let me ask you one more question before let you go. do you think the president will be satisfied if there is only universal background checks in the eventual law, no ban on assault weapons and no high capacity magazines. >> first of all, i wouldn't pooh-pooh universal background checks if you talk to criminal criminalologists and law enforcement people they think it would be significant progress perhaps more than any other
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piece of this legislation. focusing on the background checks is the right thing to do. obviously, reducing the size of these magazines such as this shooter used in newtown would be a great step forward in terms of preventing these kinds of mass killings. an assault weapons ban would be a step forward in that regard. we shouldn't make the perfect the enemy of the good, particularly when the good is a central piece of this. so fighting for those background checks is essential to a strategy to fight gun violence across this country. >> david axelrod, thank you for time traveling through different -- not time traveling but just going to new time zones. >> happy to see you at any time, alex. >> happy to see you with or without the mustache. thanks for your time, david. tonight, no one said change is easy. sometimes progress requires baby steps and a little push from the world of pop culture.
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we discuss the political debate and outside influences when academy award winner barry levinson and "new york times" frank bruney joins us just next. [ mom ] 3 days into school break and they're already bored. hmm, we need a new game. ♪ that'll save the day. ♪ so will bounty select-a-size. it's the smaller powerful sheet. the only one with trap + lock technology. look! one select-a-size sheet of bounty is 50% more absorbent than a full size sheet of the leading ordinary brand. use less. with the small but powerful picker upper, bounty select-a-size.
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from academy award winning director to grover norquist agitator, barry levinson wears many hats. he'll don his truth-telling cap when he join us next. >> we were on a roller coaster with exciting ups and downs and then the ride ends and you get off. can't we be on a roller coaster the rest of our life? no, the ride is over. >> now that his ride is over, mitt romney wants to enjoy a life of multiple homes, cars and stock dividends. we'll explore the status quo just ahead
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welcome back. as the debate over same sex marriage plays out, one thing is clear, no matter what the judges decide, america look towards justice. "time" magazine says gay marriage won. the pew research center reports the growth and support is one of the largest changes in public opinion on any policy issue over this time period. we can attribute some of this to the rob portman effect, which is clinically known as proximity empathy and from knowing someone who is gay.
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there is much to be said about the effect of a medium that brings gay characters and their stories into the living rooms of their living room who may never have had a gay person in their living room. media an entertainment. there was ellen and "will & grace" and backlash. the existence of gay characters on the new normal and glee goes almost entirely unquestioned. case in point, severely conservative candidate mitt romney, whose self-admitted tv show is "modern family," a show where two of the lead characters are gay parents. and while a baptist church continue its hate, gay culture is american culture. let us turn to frank bruney, op-ed columnist for the "new york times" and director, barry levinson. thank you both for joining me. barry, i want to go to you first. let's talk a little bit about the influence of pop culture on
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public opinion and politics. you have written about this in poliwood. i want too hear about how you think that informs this current debate we're having over gay marriage. >> in terms of pop culture what you see on television? >> media, culture, how it influences politics and policy making? >> i think it's probably in subtle ways, i don't know how you measure it. you see shows where there are characters who are gay, and we begin to watch it and there becomes a gradual acceptance and they're just people. there's nothing exotic or strange or frightening about any of it, it just become a person no more, no less. the nature of television is a very intimate medium, as opposed to film, which you go and watch people on giant screens. there's an intimacy to television. i think at a certain point of
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time we begin to accept that which we see and understand. >> frank, i want to quote you something barry wrote i thought was fairly profound. basically, the notion is, things change. he writes, there the old testament and new testament. originally there was just the testament. it was the word of god. apparently the word of god needed to be updated and rewritten so god's words were changed. now we have two versions of the word of god. life moved on. things change. hard to accept change, filled with anxiety and fear, but in the scheme of things, marriage between couples of the same sex seems like baby steps. what could be truer? >> religion changes through times and everything has its own cultural context and a lot of scripture to quote in any given context. i think we now understand >> audio difficulties. >> barry, we're losing frank's audio. we'll be back to him in one second. >> i thought it was me.
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>> it's someone to blame in a control room somewhere. through the notion of things change, it's interesting we seem as a society so reluctant to change or acknowledging change when in fact we're living in a time when technology has changed our very interactions towards one another, in between and towards one another. why is it do you think things like gay marriage get such top billing in terms of everything is shifting? >> it's change in general. we're always afraid of change because we think it could be dangerous. we don't know what it is. whatever the change might be, we're a little bit afraid of it. we're comfortable with as things are to a certain degree. there's always a certain degree of resistance whether you went from the horse and buggy to the automobile in terms of technology. or the beginning of radio or any of those particular things. certain things that take place in our society, whatever they
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may be, we have a kind of a knee-jerk reaction to it. as time goes on, we begin to understand, wait a minute, what's the difference? what is the difference between two women who walk the street and maybe holding hands, whether they are friends, lovers or whether they're married, how does it affect other people? it doesn't. at a certain point in time, we begin to say, okay, that's fine with me. let's get on, let's move to the next thing. >> frank, you know, when we think about something like gay marriage, it's a positive step and the arc is long and bends towards justice is something we've been saying all week and i wonder if there's a flip side of things changing and culture on politics. we just talked with david axelrod and talked about the republican party and their sensational version of legislating, to take the hard line and take the extreme position. i wonder if you think that's maybe an out-growth of this kind of sensational culture we live. >> of reality tv and all that? >> yes.
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>> grover norquist's name came up earlier. there's a real reward to the provocateur, to the person who says things in an exaggerated fashion and a reward to the person who uses a pittian sound bite and had a corrosive effect on our debate and giving shallow attention to the media than nuances and compromises that lead to meaningful legislation. >> that's very true. that which jumps out as being something provacative gets attention and someone that deals in moderation is very often over overlooked. >> frank, how do we walk back from that then? i guess the question, have we gone a bridge too far? how do you get the sensationalism out of politics and policy making? is there any hope? >> i'm not sure. a few things we could do, people like you and me give less ink and airtime to people who merely speak in emphatic and colorful size people talking with
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substance and nuance. voters have to come into the equation. i think they're getting more and more fed up with the sclerosis and stupidity we see in washington d.c. and we welcome come upon a time they will going to i hope intelligent fashion start rewarding people let good with a quip and more good with pen and legislation. >> fascinating to see how low the approval rating of congress actually is. they go about their business as if they're doing a wonderful job, as if people agree with them. you can't get much lower than what people think of our congress. >> in fact they're writing memos saying they are the victors. there is a big cleave between reality and some congress members. i'm taking the nuance, more black and white. >> indeed i'm guilty as well. can mitt romney be
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considered quote normal if he was ever normal to begin with. we will take a look inside the fascinating, terrifying, terrifying world of mitt romney. is tax and smoke the new world of tax and spend? some states are getting the munchies for dime bag tax money. we will talk legalizing it next.
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any person who spends nearly a decade trying to become the leader of the free world tends to draw a crowd. but the endlessly parodied and entertaining mitt romney says he's really trying to enjoy the quiet life. on wednesday the loser of the 2012 election waxed on about his newfound freedom. >> i have to admit being able to go back to my own life and going to the grocery store and shopping on my own is kind of nice to do by myself without a bunch of people hanging on. i like the life off being an american citizen. it's good to live a normal life again. >> you may ask yourself, how does a normal american like mitt romney get his normal man groceries home from the market? >> i drive a mustang and a chevy pickup truck. ann drives a couple of cadillacs actually. >> presumably, normal mitt has the option to park his car at any number of his humble
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abodes including the car elevator at his $12 million fixer upper at lajolla. what is interesting about his attempt to claim the mantle of normal is no part of offshore accounts, his tax rate and trust funds is normal. what is normal in america? according to our friends, normal is having a job that pays you $33,000 a year, which is what half the jobs created in this country paid last year. a quarter of them paid less than $22,000 a year, which is below the federal poverty line for a family of four. what else is normal in america? being on food stamps as of december 2012, a record 47.8 million americans needed help from the federal government to put food on the table. to be fair, normalcy is ultimately in the eye of the beholder. even mitt romney probably wouldn't even take a $10,000 bet
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that he truly understands what normal means for actual americans. you know,that could be a question of blood flow. cialis tadalafil for daily use helps you be ready anytime the moment's right. you can be more confident in your ability to be ready. and the same cialis is the only daily ed tablet approved to treat ed and symptoms of bph, like needing to go frequently or urgently. tell your doctor about all your medical conditions and medications, and ask if your heart is healthy enough for sexual activity. do not take cialis if you take nitrates for chest pain, as this may cause an unsafe drop in blood pressure. do not drink alcohol in excess with cialis. side effects may include headache, upset stomach, delayed backache or muscle ache. to avoid long-term injury, seek immediate medical help for an erection lasting more than four hours. if you have any sudden decrease or loss in hearing or vision, or if you have any allergic reactions such as rash, hives, swelling of the lips, tongue or throat, or difficulty breathing or swallowing, stop taking cialis and get medical help right away. ask your doctor about cialis for daily use and a 30-tablet free trial.
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with the s&p at an all-time high and lawmakers away on vacation, you'd think america's fiscal house was in order. members of congress may be drinking pina coladas, but it's back to work soon. before they left both houses managed to pass budgets but don't mistake that for progress. the gap is so wide a deal may not be possible. the house republicans budget aka the dreaded paul ryan plan consists entirely of spending cuts. with the fiscal goalposts so far away from one another and unemployment stuck at 7.7%, the idea of consensus on the country's economic future may be a distant dream. earlier this month, jonathan chait predicted despair. if the goal of the two parties
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can be plotted along a right/left axis, then 16 negotiations may be a middle ground. if the parties can't find a middle ground, it's because a middle ground doesn't exist. when negotiations seems stall, what else to do but add another negotiate into the mix. today, president obama announces he will release his budget on the 10th. congress may have better luck lurching from crisis to crisis with a series of stopgap measures to create panic than trying to come to an agreement. wait. they are already doing that. let us turn to john, from "the new yorker" and "new york times" columnist and host of squawkbox on cnbc, andrew ross sorkin. thank you for joining us. andrew, i remember not but several weeks ago you were at the charming mountain get away at davos.
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you said to me in not so many words, we will be living on the fiscal cliff for many years. do you still take that stance? >> 120%. the idea of a grand bargain i think is over. the idea there's a passing game anymore, that's off the table. to the extend there's any game, a ground game about picking up yards and inches along the way. that's as good as we're going to get at this point. i think when you look at the various proposals that have been put out there, whether it's patty murray or paul ryan, we are at such loggerheads and so far away. i'd like to think there are places we could have some meetings of the minds but i don't see it in a grand bargain way, i see distinct specific issues maybe we can get closer but i don't think that the big one's on the table. >> john, do you agree with that? i tend to think just because of the virtue of the fact the
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senate democrats' budget has both revenue and spending in there, it is more of a sort of middle ground document. republicans seem very intent to say no on any tax razors and thus the loggerheads. what went wrong along the way here? >> i basically see this whole thing as a charade. i think andrew is right and jonathan chad is right. both sides seem to have come to the conclusion that it's better to go through the process of pretending to have a budget than negotiate. budgets people don't understand what they really are, not actually spending bills, wish lists. the government can keep going without a budget, it has been going through the last four years without one. congress did vote a spending resolution last week that will keep the government going until september. both sides have decided they don't want to shut the government down, does terrible things to both their approval ratings. they'd rather keep the government going and argue about the big issues on the budget but not actually agree on anything.
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the republicans don't want to raise taxes, the democrats don't want to cut entitlement spending. without agreement on those two basic issues, i don't think there is any middle ground. >> andrew, what do you make of this? we were quoting the "washington post" earlier and i want to continue a line or two. he writes, obama thinks the cuts are in his words, dumb, talking about the sequester r sequester and they will slow the economy by harming education and any other programs yet obama finds himself enacting broad domestic policy he doesn't support and that he believes will harm the country. in that way the republicans have thoroughly dominated in the terms we are talking about signing sequester cuts into law. >> when you think of what's happening in the markets, it goes this very point. for months, there was this idea the sequester was going put us in a very bad place.
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i think in the real economy, the sequester is not going to be helpful, in fact will be hurtful. having said that, when you then see the s&p where it is today, you see people cheering for the markets and see things at these remarkable highs, there's a remarkable disconnect. there's one part of the world that thinks the sequester doesn't matter and the real world which knows it mattered but ultimately, it's the headlines of the markets and the investment and wall street and all this getting better and it will make it that much harder for obama to press his case. >> go ahead. >> i think andrew makes a good point. let's look at washington seriously. these guys never agree on anything until there's a real market crisis, especially when it comes to the budget. they're so far apart. as long as the economy is going along as it is now, not in a recession, as long as the market is making new highs every month, there's really not that much pressure on both sides to come together. neither of their bases want to do a deal. the republicans don't want to raise taxes, democrats don't
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want to tackle enttitlement spending even though obama said he would -- tackle entitlement spending, even though he said he would if pushed. i think we stay where we are on the six month. a lot of grand budget, especially paul ryan's proposal. >> i wonder if you would talk about the narrative that everything is great. >> it isn't. i want to suggest it isn't. there's two worlds going on here. >> that's exactly right. we talk about income disparity and decline of american mobility. there are two americans. the america where one in three families is living at or near the poverty line and a surging market. how has that happened? where do we trace that cleave back to? does a fair income tax code ameliorate some of that? how do we reconvene somewhere down the road?
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>> that is a great question without sadly the best answer. i think what's happening right now you're seeing the economy, even though there are two americas, the economy is getting better, marginally getting better in certain pockets of the world when it comes to corporate profits, that's where it's getting better. i'd like to see some meeting of the minds. i think there could be on corporate taxes. there's a huge effort, you heard it from obama in the fall wanted to tackle the issue and mccain and others talk about it. everybody claims they want to get rid of loopholes. i think that's the easiest thing to get in a room and say we're not doing loopholes for anybody. it's a democratic and republican thought, everybody loves to talk about it, let's do it. that's somewhere if you can pick up a yard here or two and start the conversation, that's one way to do it and maybe change the conversation about the two americas. >> john cassidy and andrew ross
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sorkin, thank you both, gentlemen. it's a question of two americas we will be pondering for some time. thanks for your time. as the supreme court ponders the future of same sex marriage, jim mcgreevey's 2004 revelation he was a gay american now seems less insindiary.
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can state coffers get back to the black by taxing the green? there is a new ground swell for state level marijuana legalization. will bales of weed bail out the cash strapped? we will have the straight dope and so many more bad puns coming up next. 
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is methamphetamine worse for somebody's health than marijuana?
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>> i don't think any illegal drug -- >> is heroin worse for someone's health than marijuana? >> again -- >> yes, no or i don't know? if you don't know, you can look this up. you should know this as the chief administrator for the drug enforcement agency. >> that was colorado congressman fighting hard for what his constituents want, marijuana. as it stands, 18 states have medical marijuana programs. washington state and colorado made history as voters chose to legalize pot for recreational use. now, legislators in those two states have a different type of green on the brain, tax revenue. currently, colorado has plans to put 15% tax on recreational pot. it's estimated the tax would result in $24 million worth of revenue for the state. the congressman claims some estimates are closer to $100 million. either way, he says the money could make a quote substantial dent in needed school
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improvements, particularly in poorer districts. in washington, the estimates are even higher. at present, the state is planning a 25% tax. their estimate for 2017 shows $565 million in new revenue. there is no denying the green is good and especially now. 30 states are currently facing a budget shortfall for 2013 including california where they are facing a $15 billion budget gap and in new york they are facing a $2 billion budget gap. aside from the economic benefits, public support for marijuana legalization has been pardon the pun, growing the last 20 years. that being said, one very, very important person who used to be part of a pot smoking gang in high school is not on board. >> we're not going to be legalizing weed any time soon. >> the obama administration hasn't yet outlined how it might deal with legalization, and the
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department of justice could end the party in colorado and washington at any time. given the choice between drug cartels or schools and infrastructure, the choice seems clear. coming up, ours is a society of second and third chances as former new jersey governor, jim mcgreevey can attest. mcgreevey's redemption story pales to the stories of the incarcerated women he now counsels.
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after coming out as a gay american and resigning from the new jersey governorship in 2004, jim mcgreevey has embarked on a second act. a spiritual counselor for women at new jersey's hudson county correctional center. >> it's remarkable how grace works in our lives. when we're broken, we begin to understood that there's a potential to have a different value shift, to live a different way. >> i get so happy, he's so uplifting. >> he loves reading and you can tell it's genuine. who cares what his sexual preference is? you won't find many people with that genuine love you will find in jim. >> his new calling use his owner experience to help rebuild the lives of others. >> being in the closet is a prison of sorts. for a gay man, there were so
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many times in my life i felt filled with shame and guilt and ugliness. and now, sort of to move through this, i hope to do that for these women. i am that woman in jail. no different. >> mcgreevey is also speaking out about the need for criminal justice reform. with 2.2 million americans either in prison or in jail, the u.s. incarcerates more of its citizens than either russia or rwanda. with 5% of the world's population, the u.s. has the highly dubious distinction of holding close to 25% of the world's prisoners. i am now joined by former new jersey governor, jim mcgreevey. >> go, alex! those are great stats. >> they're so important. >> they're so sad. >> i know this week you've been talking a lot about gay marriage and your status as a gay american, and we want to get to that. the subject of what you're doing in prisons and the prison population, the notion of grace is so important and i want to
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get to that first. >> thank you. >> how did this come to be something you wanted to be involved in? >> after i resigned, a dear friend said to me, if you could do anything, what would you want to do? there aren't many people in the middle of their life that have that option. one of the things i always wanted to do was explore seminary. when i was a young person, my grandmother wanted me to become a jesuit. there was something in my heart and soul that said perhaps i ought to explore this. i went to a general episcopalian seminary in new york and the dean sent me up to harlem to work as part of my field education. one of the reasons i went, frankly, i felt safe i wouldn't be subject to recrimination or examination by them, ironically. over the time, got it to see great men and women who frankly started in a very different place than i did in life, had serious challenges, grew up in
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some of the grittiest places in new york city and now were trying to reclaim their lives. after seminary, i started working with the women with the integrity house program in hudson county, and it's been one of the most rewarding aspects of my life. >> when you look at the statistics of the u.s. prison population and what happens to their lives after they serve, do you feel there is movement to ameliorate our justice system and the way people are treated once they reenter society. i want to read a quote that premiums we are getting better and gives a lot of credit to conservatives. around the country dozens of political leaders with rock solid credentials have begun to take a new line on crime and particularly the issue of reintegrating ex-offenders into society. this loose movement represents a sea change and large social
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reform effort. do you think that's relevant? >> i think it's out there and relatively tenuous. when you look at people like chuck and democrats that think are out there, the system is broken. you know there needs to be systemic change. the fact 70% of persons behind bars are in active addiction. of that, only 11% receive any treatment. not only are we failing in terms of whatever it is we think we're doing in prison simply isn't working. in addition, if we know 70% of the population are classified as addicts and we only treat 11% of those, we are not treating the proximate cause for their criminal behavior. >> you also mentioned in terms of what happens in prisons and what we're not doing that part of the problem is inmates are
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left to fester. >> alex, it's so crazy. if anybody spends any time in prison or jail, you walk in in -- when i got up in the morning, i watched my parents, my father iron his shirt and go off to work, my mother eventually worked. you modelled behavior. you look at piaget, colberg, children traditionally follow and replicates the patterns of behavior of their community. the women with whom i work grew up in awful circumstances, victims of sexual abuse, domestic violence, they took drugs to anesthetize themselves to get through the next day. then we lock them up based on some abstract notion you've been bad and we will punish you for this amount of time. we ironically put them in a population with even worse behavioral tendencies and expect the holy ghost to descend and change their behavioral structure. you look what the israelis are doing and scandinavian nations
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are doing, they understand three things. you have to change behavior and model behavior. two, you have to provide for addiction treatment behind bars and outside. you have to address the problem of addiction. third, you also have to prove transitional housing. you just can't allow somebody to be released into the community with a hand shake and bus ticket and think it's going to work. communal sober housing is important. >> it begins with recognizing these are human beings, right? the idea of the justice system is you come out and -- once you served your time you get a fresh start. >> just to pick up on that, i have the women say everyday i am a precious and valuable child of god. part of this is, is so much by virtue of the uniforms they wear, how people -- i mean, we're blessed with a great warden. so often in their society, in their own self-narrative, the
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fact everybody in their community knows they've gone to the big house, the fact their children have a certain amount of shame towards them, they are almost locked in this very encased narrative they can't break out of. what's so critically important is they understood things can be different. if i can, our recidivism stats at hudson county jail are now 22% against a national average of 66%. >> that is so impressive. >> our old stats were 55%. we've come down to 22%. that means almost 4 out of 5 women don't come back. that's because we don't wait until they walk out of the door before we start giving them treatment, we give them star treatment in jail and start changing behavior and requiring work in jail and outside in terms of work and also sober housing. we make sure that people are committed to sober housing and, alex, every one works. the simple dignity of work is so profound. i have women that have cral